God, the Potter

Image from www.peaceumcorlando.org

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you our potter: we are all the work of your hand.”
-Isaiah 64: 8

I had this moment yesterday when our out-door-playing, sunshiny-warm, grubby 4 year old girl came to me in a fitful state of ouch and woe with tears streaming down her face. She had so much fine dust covering her body that when her tears emerged, they trickled down in brown streaks across her skin.

This image came to me in my morning prayer meditating on today’s scripture. Wet brown, muddy, emotional being; loving touch; a moment of re-creation born from an intense experience.

I was sitting on the front porch — silent, eyes closed, palms up, twenty minute timer on — going into the heart of Isaiah’s text in my own imaginative way. (It’s the Feast of Ignatius of Loyola, after all, and imaginative prayer is part of my celebration of this saint and founder of the Jesuits.)

I saw the Good Lord’s hands holding me like I was clay, shaping my nose, tending to each strand of curly hair on my head, marking the curve of my cheek. And in that instant, my own gesture of love to a small child returned. Just as I had wiped away my daughter’s earth-stained tears, I imagined God doing the same to me, moving His hand over my skin, and reminding me of whence I came and the love and care inherent in His creation of me.

We are each from the earth. We are each born of love. We are each renewed and tended to by God in and through the Holy Spirit in our daily lives Can you fathom this? 

In my quiet, I was entertained and overwhelmed by emotion with these thoughts of God’s gentleness and care. I imagined Love, the Divine Potter, molding the individuals closest to my heart. I followed the Spirit’s nudges to see God creating the stranger that walked in front of my St. Paul home the day before. Eyes closed, I could still see the figure of the funny fellow who strolled down Selby Avenue wearing nothing save shorts, sporting a ukulele, and perching himself on a dinosaur sculpture across the way and then strumming. I delighted in this imaginative prayer that afforded me a glimpse into God’s love for all of us. And when the Holy Spirit took me to God sculpting the heart of the soldier-turned-terrorist who fired the missile, striking down flight MH17 out of Amsterdam killing 298 people, I was in shaken.

If God is our father, we are clay, and He the sculptor of our very lives –creating all of humanity —  then what does that mean for our world? What are the implications for our lives? Our relationships? Our next steps?

***

On this Feast day of St. Ignatius, with this particular scripture reading at your fingertips, I invite you to engage your creativity and enter into the heart of this text using your imagination. Get out some clay. Say a prayer. Sculpt and see what the Holy Spirit reveals to you.

“How can we hear and respond to God’s call for our lives?”

Laura Kelly Fanucci

Laura Kelly Fanucci

by Laura Kelly Fanucci, Project Researcher, Collegeville Institute

From the time we are children and teenagers, people ask us questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What are you going to do with your life?” Sometimes such questions seem exciting and full of possibility. Other times they feel oppressive and overwhelming. Yet at every stage of life’s journey-at mid-career or at retirement, for example-we are full of questions about what to do, where to go, who to be.

How can we learn to see where God is leading us through our journey? How can we become aware of how God speaks to us, often in “tiny whispering sounds”? How do we understand what God wants for and from our lives? These are questions of vocation that call for careful discernment.

Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities?

The process of discernment is a centuries-old Christian practice of personal prayer and reflection with others that examines our lives in light of what we know about God’s hopes, dreams, and love for us. Discernment involves paying attention to our experiences in order to recognize God’s presence. Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities? What other voices around us are competing with God’s voice or leading us towards selfish, even evil, inclinations instead of the good God wants for us? What patterns do we notice about how we make decisions: are we careful planners or do we simply fall into situations without much thought? How do we choose? Through discernment we consider our inner thoughts as well as our outward actions; we listen to ourselves, to others, to our community and our context.

Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life.

The Christian tradition offers many formal practices of discernment. Ignatian spirituality uses a review of where God’s presence is felt throughout the day (called the examen). Quakers gather “clearness committees” where a group helps an individual to discern God’s voice within them and find clarity about a question or dilemma. The practice of lectio divina that you are learning from the Rule of Saint Benedict is another discernment process with a long history of helping Christians sort out God’s voice from the many other voices that call to us.

But many people already have informal habits of discernment. Perhaps you have a trusted friend that you talk to about big decisions. Maybe you journal or pray or take long walks when you are wrestling with important questions. Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life:

“Vocation…comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about-quite apart from what I would like it to be about-or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

…Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live-but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.

–From Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

We often think of God’s call as a voice that is heard. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which means “to call,” and “calling” has traditionally been another term for “vocation.” And people often talk about discernment as “listening for God’s call” or “hearing God’s voice,” as in the stories in Scripture when God speaks from a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17) or wakes someone with a voice in the night (1 Samuel 3:1-18). Yet it seems that most of us do not experience God’s call through a booming voice from heaven that tells us where to go or what to do. Instead, we are called by God through the people and places, the events and the encounters, the challenges and the changes of our everyday lives. God communicates with us through conversations and questions, through friends and family, through our own hopes and thoughts. Maybe we feel “pulled” or “drawn” towards one decision instead of another. Perhaps we see signs or feel led down a certain path. These can all be ways that God reveals our vocation to us.

And vocation is not just God’s call to us; it is also our response to God. We call on God in turn as we struggle to figure out where and how to live out our vocations. Discernment practices are valuable for questions of vocation because they help us develop habits for exploring our relationship with God. While it takes effort and patience to learn how to look and listen for God, such habits of discernment can help us during times of doubt, fear or anxiety about our vocations. Making time and space for discernment can open our ears and our hearts to find God in the “tiny whispering sounds” of our lives.

************************************************************************************************************************

Excerpted from “Called to Life: Reflecting on Vocation” a curriculum we are using as part of the Following the Spirit discernment series. We are happy to be able to share this as a resource from the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. –Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion; Co-Facilitator, “Following the Spirit” Discernment Series

Entering Holy Week through Imaginative Prayer

Wayne Forte, Anointing His Feet #2 (acrylic on canvas, 2008)

Wayne Forte, Anointing His Feet #2 (acrylic on canvas, 2008)

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I keep seeing his feet. The calloused edges of Jesus’ heels, the dark brown of his skin exposed through his sandals. I imagine the way the perfumed oil must soften the leathered texture of his soles, and my own heart cracks open in the process.  It is Mary, sister to Martha and the raised Lazarus, who provides me with this glimpse of Christ as a weary-walking human being in my imaginative prayer pouring over Chapter 12 of John’s gospel, versus 1-12. I begin my Holy Week entering scripture through this Ignatian-inspired prayer practice, and it ignites my imagination and fuels my passion for the upcoming days of our Triduum.

How many ways are there to enter into this most holy and sacred time of our liturgical year? What rituals and rites do we carry out annually that open our minds and hearts and align us with this soon-to-be crucified-and-risen Christ? How do we embrace the moments of Jesus among us – his disciples – as new, as emotion-filled, as invigorating and central to our own faith journeys on this earth? How do we experience these days and find ourselves renewed, rather than simply moving through rote ceremonies and rituals?

I ask all these questions of myself, my faith community, my family and friends — as I simultaneously tune into lamb and ham recipes, consider egg-dying alternatives, and what special bright-colored ensemble I might dawn for Easter Sunday. No lie. I am a woman who loves Jesus, and also deeply appreciates a good pedicure to show off on the day we celebrate that “HE IS RISEN!” (Note: my focus on toes shifts considerably during these contemplative days.)

***

Each month, as part of our “Following the Spirit” discernment series, we spend time learning about a kind of prayer to inform or guide our discernment processes.  We have an experience in that prayer form then, with the goal of drawing us closer to God and knowing his will for our lives and abiding love for each of us. Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, the Examen, Praying with Nature, and the Divine Office are all prayer forms about which we have provided instruction.  At this last Monday night’s discernment session, I had the opportunity to lead an experience of Ignatian Prayer and Imagination.

In an excerpt from “What is Ignatian Spirituality?” Fr. David L. Fleming, SJ writes: “Following Jesus is the business of our lives. To follow him we must know him, and we get to know him through our imagination. Imaginative Ignatian prayer teaches us things about Jesus that we would not learn through scripture study or theological reflection. It allows the person of Christ to penetrate into places that the intellect does not touch. It brings Jesus into our hearts. It engages our feelings. It enflames us with ideals of generous service.”

Following some basic steps for this prayer*, our room of 23 discerners imagined themselves inside the scriptural setting of John’s gospel. We were Mary, we were Lazurus, we were Martha, we were Judas. We watched, listened, engaged, felt — we tuned into Jesus as he entered the room, and we found ourselves interacting with him as our hearts and spirits would have it. We came to know him. We came to believe, not in a theologically sound and historically accurate way, but through our God-given imaginations.

It is this Ignatius Loyola-inspired prayer experience that takes me to Christ’s feet — that thrusts me smack dab into the center of the human drama and blessed journey that is this Holy Week, and provides me a more intimate glimpse of Christ’s suffering and resurrection. I want to be Mary and tend to his limbs, anointing his feet with sacred oil,  before he turns to wash his disciple’s soles. I want to walk alongside him and know first hand those moments in the garden, what it’s like to be on my knees. I want to slow down and hear his breathing as he labors and relinquishes his life in those last moments on the cross. And certainly, I want to be outside his tomb — there when he first appears beyond human form.

***

What does your own imagination desire in prayer this Holy Week? Will you join me in this heart-and-spirit-led activity?

Triduum Blessings!
_____________________________________________________________________________________

*For more on Imaginative Prayer, see “Ignatian Prayer and the Imagination” from Ignatian Spirituality.com
And: “How do we Pray with our Imagination?” from Creighton Online Ministries